QUAKERTOWN, Pa. - State Rep. Paul Clymer faced a small but cantankerous audience Thursday night when he held a town meeting in the James A. Michener Library in Quakertown.
People were angry about school taxes, teachers, school boards, out-of-control pensions, Common Core, illegal immigrant children coming into Pennsylvania and the federal government in general.
More than once, some demanded that Clymer "lead the charge" and complained that he is not showing enough leadership on their behalf – especially on education issues.
Rather than engage in arguments, he mostly just listened during the meeting, which lasted about 90 minutes. He may have been beat up a bit, but he remained calm and seemed unruffled.
Clymer asked people to identify themselves before speaking, but many just blurted out comments – while others were talking.
A few examples:
"We've lost our sovereignty as a state."
"We're sick of this stuff, it's obscene."
"They're sexualizing our kindergarten children."
When a woman said "they're turning us into a third-world nation," another said: "We already are."
When several people were speaking at once, which they did often, Clymer said: "Now wait a minute, one at a time. I'll call on you. You have to raise your hand."
When several continued talking at the same time Clymer was talking, one female shouted: "Quiet! Please!"
At times, the behavior of some in the crowd the crowd verged on being disrespectful to an elder statesman of Pennsylvania politics.
The 77-year-old Clymer has served in the state House of Representatives since 1981.
A Republican who represents Bucks County's 145th District, his long career in state politics will end Nov. 30. He decided not to seek another term this year.
The two people who hope to win Clymer's seat in November were in the audience: Democrat Karen Chellew of East Rockhill Township and Republican Craig Staats of Richland Township.
Clymer, who resides in West Rockhill Township, said he has endorsed Staats.
While he meets with many organizations, Clymer said the town meeting was the first such public meeting he's done in two years.
Asked why he bothered having such a meeting so late in his last term, Clymer said the issues are very important and people are paying him to represent them until Nov. 30.
At the end of the meeting he promised: "We'll look into these issues. Just bear with us and we'll get the job done."
About 30 people attended.
Clymer, who wore an American flag tie, removed his sport coat before the meeting started.
He began it with a trivia question, asking what two constitutional rights were being exercised by everyone at the meeting.
They were the right of assembly for grievances against government and free speech.
He then asked everyone to rise, face the flag in the front of the room and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
The negative tone of the meeting was set soon after Clymer began taking questions.
One man, who identified himself as Don from Franconia, angrily said the state Legislature doesn't make significant changes to reduce pensions of current teachers because it is scared to death of teachers' unions.
"You guys don't do nothin' about it," he told Clymer. After he was applauded, he added: "You got no answer for that."
Clymer said he would support pension reform legislation, but noted it needs 51 percent of the legislators to vote for it.
"The taxpayers get shafted," said the man.
"I do appreciate your comments," said Clymer, adding he will look at a Senate pension reform bill the man mentioned.
Another man suggested 90 percent of the people want pension reform, so "why wouldn't 90 percent of the legislators be for it?" Answering his own question, he said: "Special interests are keeping the public from being heard on this issue. You couldn't convince me otherwise."
A man who identified himself as Art from Doylestown noted Clymer is a member of the House Gaming Oversight Committee "and we've got mob casinos throughout the state."
Said Clymer: "There are casinos; I don't know if they're mob casinos."
The man maintained the Sands Casino in Bethlehem was purchased from gangster Meyer Lansky, who died more than 30 years ago. He suggested Clymer should be investigating criminal activity in casinos. Clymer said that is the job of Pennsylvania's attorney general.
Someone arriving late at the meeting easily might have assumed it was called specifically to discuss Common Core, the controversial nationwide educational standards program.
After all, Clymer is chairman of the House Education Committee.
The clear message he repeatedly got from several people in the audience is they want Pennsylvania to scrap Common Core.
Even before anyone asked about it, Clymer said he's "not totally happy" with Common Core and said he will be doing "a very serious review" in August on Common Core standards in Pennsylvania.
He said many parents and school teachers have told him "this thing is not working the way it should, so we need to take another look at it.
"I know some people here in the audience are concerned about that. I just want you to know, I share your concerns."
"You are our voice," said one woman. "But everybody I talk to says ‘Paul Clymer won't bring anything up'."
Lynn McClain of Quakertown said she and her husband previously met with Clymer to share their concerns about Common Core and left him an educational DVD on the issue.
"I would like to know if you watched it?" she asked.
"I did not," he admitted.
"Are you going to watch the video that we gave you?"
"I have watched about three videos about Common Core," said Clymer,
adding: "My days are kind of full. But I am not unfamiliar with the concern."
After the meeting, Clymer said people in the audience "scored some points" on their complaints about Common Core but noted there are two sides to the issue.
He said he's talked to school principals and school district superintendents who don't totally accept Common Core but don't have a passion against it like some in the audience did. He said teachers also are frustrated about Common Core.
Speaking of frustrated, when a woman wearing a red Phillies shirt stood to stay she was frustrated about Common Core, Clymer tried to lighten things up: "Are you a Phillies fan? Are you sure you're not frustrated because of the Phillies?"
Praise for governor
Clymer began the meeting by reviewing pertinent issues being debated by the state Legislature in Harrisburg.
He said the most important bill it passes is the annual state budget, which totals $29.1 billion for 2014-15.
"Education received the lion's share -- $10.4 billion – an increase of $330 million from the year before," said Clymer.
"You'll hear from time to time that Gov. Corbett has cut the budget. He has not cut the budget.
"What happened was the federal government gave us a billion dollars in stimulus money for two years. That does not reoccur. When the two billion dollars was through, that was it."
He said some school districts put their share of that stimulus money into their annual budgets, even though the money was not going to be available after two years. "When that money did not come back, they said the government cut the budget.
"What really happened was each year since Tom Corbett has been in office, he's been increasing the actual cash dollars for education."
Clymer added Corbett has done that for four years in a row, with no tax increases and no new taxes.
He said pension reform legislation in Harrisburg is trying to close a $47 billion gap and Corbett is calling the General Assembly back into session on Aug. 4 to try to deal with that issue.
He also said unemployment in Pennsylvania is at a record low of 5.6 percent and that the Pennsylvania lottery had record profits in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
Clymer said legislation calling for the privatization of state stores passed the House and is now in the Senate. "I don't know what they're going to do. We've heard so many rumors about what's going to happen. We'll just have to wait and see."
He also talked about current House and Senate bills aimed at eliminating property taxes by replacing them with increases in sales and personal income taxes. He said the six percent sales tax would increase to seven percent and the personal income tax would increase by less than one percent. He said revenues from casinos also would be used.
"We need to change property taxes," said Clymer." We are trying to find ways to do that. It's very difficult."
One resident said people on fixed incomes can't keep paying $3,000 to $4,000 a year in school taxes.
Regarding legislative efforts to tax natural gas companies that tap into the state's Marcellus shale region, Clymer said it would bring $350 million to the state and added: "It's something I certainly would consider. But we don't have all the details on it. I want to hear the full report before I make a vote."
While acknowledging it's a federal issue, Clymer called the federal Affordable Healthcare Act "socialized medicine."
He said many small businesses already have been negatively impacted in a financial way. He said doctors and hospitals also have apprehension about it.
"I worked at a hospital for 13 years before I became a legislator. And I can tell you socialized medicine is a failure."
On a social issue, Clymer complained that people no longer seem to emphasize traditional family values – which ultimately could help deter crimes.
He said he enjoys attending awards ceremonies for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, because they work hard and they believe in ethics and morality.
He commended churches and other houses of worship in Upper Bucks for their outreach efforts to young people, by offering them wholesome activities whether or not they are members of the congregation.
Clymer said in the Legislature's last session, he had two bills signed into law. He said one is an effort to counter human trafficking and the other encourages public schools to teach children about the Holocaust.
Allentown, PA 18102
- Lehigh Valley 69 News